Staff Photo: John Bohn Dr. Nancy Kiel, center, Principal of Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee, listens to writing assignments completed by third grade students Jamie Lee, 9, left, and Erin Wilson, 9, right.
SUWANEE -- Nancy Kiel, principal of Level Creek Elementary School in Suwanee, comes from a long line of educators. Her mother was a school counselor, her grandmothers and great-grandmothers were educators, and so is her sister.
"Learning has been a part of our family environment for as long as I can remember. It's just so interesting," Kiel said of her choice to become a teacher. "My mom would come home and talk about her job, and it sounded like so much fun to me."
The principal's love of learning led her to one of the best schools for education in the country -- Vanderbilt University, Peabody School, in Nashville. Many of her family members attended the University of Kentucky; in fact she, her sister and brother were the first in the family not to attend Kentucky.
"My family bleeds blue," said Kiel, laughing.
Upon graduating from Vanderbilt, she came to Gwinnett County and experienced her first year of teaching at Norton Elementary in 1990, winning the Sallie Mae Award for teaching excellence that same year.
"Gwinnett County Public Schools is the best pace to grow as a teaching professional," Kiel said.
In her sixth year leading Level Creek Elementary's teachers and 985 students, Kiel is very clear about the focus of the teachers and administrators at the 8-year-old school.
"Academics and leadership are what we emphasize here, but we understand that learning is different for each child," she said.
Noting the changes in curriculum that have taken place and will continue to happen nationwide as well as in GCPS, Kiel credits parents, teachers and the Suwanee community for helping Level Creek teachers equip their classrooms to meet new requirements.
"Our students come to school ready to learn. The parents here are very supportive," Kiel said.
The city of Suwanee is also involved with the success of Level Creek Elementary, communicating with the principal about city happenings as well as school achievements. Students tour Suwanee's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified city hall building and earn the privilege of occasionally visiting Town Center Park for play and learning.
"Sims Lake Park is like one of our own classrooms," Kiel said. Students, teachers and parent chaperones often walk to the park to study bird migration, tree species and even art. "We wouldn't be successful without our partnership with the city."
In 2011, Level Creek earned the Georgia School of Excellence award for greatest gains, a fact of which Kiel is proud.
"We worked for that for years and now that we have earned it, we work just as hard to maintain that level of excellence," she said.
Teamwork and an openness to new ideas are key to doing just that, and teachers work with one another to elevate the entire school's level of achievement.
Said Kiel: "Our teachers are smart. They work at the county level on curriculum design."
She also notes that Suwanee's population is becoming more diverse, and she and the teachers at Level Creek welcome that diversity.
"We used to get new students in here from other places in the state or the U.S. Now, a new student may come from another country."
The school's focus on the individual child's learning helps students achieve their fullest potential, a principle to which Kiel is passionately dedicated. According to the principal, students learn as early as kindergarten about choices, consequences, accountability and leadership. "These are all part of the North Gwinnett (school) cluster's philosophy," Kiel said.
Taking these concepts a step further, this year Level Creek students are learning about good manners, an idea that came from school counselors and parents. As part of the school's "Bucket Filling Program," a 40-year-old concept that teaches students that everyone either fills up your personal "bucket" or dips into it, practicing good manners teaches students simply to consider others and practice the Golden Rule.
"Education is not something that happens to you; it's something you take part in," Kiel said, a statement that succinctly underlines her teaching philosophy.